According to study these are the key features a ‘happy city’ needs

City planners and designers want to build cities that are liveable, healthy and smart. Yet, in the abundance of research and guidelines on how to make healthy cities, happiness seems to be missing.

Research shows urban environments have an impact on our well-being and mental health, affect our behaviour and moods, interactions, day-to-day lives and even alter how our brain functions.

Our recent study found people associate their happiness with particular natural and built elements in the environment. This highlights how we can improve the design of cities to enhance people’s happiness.

Searching Instagram

In the first part of our study, we searched Instagram for images of the city people associated with happiness. We did this using four hashtags:

  • #cityhappy
  • #happycity
  • #cityofhappiness
  • #urbanhappiness

The images came from all corners of the globe, with no geographical limitation.

We sifted through hundreds of images, excluding photographs that were “selfies”, had non-urban attributes, or if they included people posing. Overall, we narrowed it down to 196 images, all of which exhibited characteristics of an urban area.

We found photographs tagged with one of the above hashtags consistently featured particular design elements. These were:

  • open space
  • natural elements (vegetation, sand, rocks)
  • historic or heritage buildings
  • colour
  • medium density buildings (up to six storeys)
  • water
  • human scale buildings (horizontal rather than vertical).

The same features came up time and again, irrespective of demographic and geographic location. This supports the idea there may be universal urban features that enhance happiness.

We then tested these themes on Brisbane residents through an online questionnaire.

Online survey

Twenty-two people took part in the online survey. They were asked to evaluate their happiness relative to different features, characteristics and images of areas in Brisbane. The survey comprised a series of multiple choice, selection and rating questions.

The results showed participants associated happiness with the same features as those who had posted on Instagram using the above hashtags. Most common to happiness was open space (86 per cent of respondents) and natural lighting (81 per cent).

Natural spaces with greenery such as parks, gardens and areas with trees, as well as areas that had water, had a significant positive impact on respondents’ happiness. Proximity to facilities, walkability of the area, green belts and views to mountains were also significant factors.

Historic or heritage character buildings ranked pretty highly (72 per cent), over the more modern style buildings. Laneways also scored pretty highly (72 per cent) as did views of the city (68 per cent) and colour (59 per cent). We noticed people liked other things, such as the materials used on sidewalks, roads and building facades.

This pilot study confirms there are specific elements which can be incorporated and factored into the planning and design of cities to enhance people’s happiness. Our further research is currently building on these initial findings, focusing on the relationship between density, urban design and happiness.

How can we use this?

Happiness is a major component of human well-being. But it isn’t factored into the widely recognised quality of life (including health, well-being and a number of economic factors) and liveability (including the standard of living) surveys of cities.

Some evidence suggests average happiness levels in Western nations haven’t improved in the last 68 years (since 1950). This is despite first-world incomes more than doubling in that time.

Happiness studies look at the links between human “subjective well-being” and the environment. We can determine people’s preferences, subjective view and association with elements of the built environment through research, and then apply the lessons to design to improve the quality of the urban environment.

Our research highlights the key elements to be cognisant of in urban transformation projects and designing for future urban areas. These findings show we can use such knowledge and apply this to existing cities to retrofit them for happiness.

People are increasingly leaving the broad acre, single detached home to live in denser, more compact urban areas. There are many benefits to this urban settlement. But to make this lifestyle compatible with human happiness and foster mental health, the design, planning and governing policy needs to consider such factors.

Originally Published by Domain.com.au, continue reading here.

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Present at the 11th International Urban Design Conference

The 2018 International Urban Design Conference will be held at the SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney, NSW over 12 – 13 November.

The conference will showcase innovations in projects and research embracing and creating transformational change in urban environments.

Topics will include exploring the potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts, urban design best practice, designing safety into a city, future proofing, connectivity and design quality outcomes.

The conference will also explore the links which create the concrete physicality of the built environment, the complex social, economic, political and cultural processes through which the physical urban form is produced and consumed.

Applications to Present and Registration are NOW OPEN!

Conference Topics Include:

  • Potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts
  • Regulating urban design
  • Safe city design
  • Transport
  • Design quality
  • Digital

Individuals and organisations are invited to submit an abstract (summary of your presentation) to deliver an oral presentation or poster presentation which addresses one or more of the conference topics. The abstract should be no more than 300 words and outline the aims, contents and conclusions of the presentation. Abstracts should not include tables, figures or references. Please also submit 3 key learnings of your presentation, as well as a 100 word biography of each presenting author.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Program Committee. Presentations will be selected to provide a Program that offers a comprehensive and diverse treatment of issues related to the Conference topics.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, topics, to submit your application to present, registration and more please visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au

Growing cities face challenges of keeping the masses moving up, down and across

Cities worldwide face the problems and possibilities of “volume”: the stacking and moving of people and things within booming central business districts. We see this especially around mass public transport hubs.

As cities grow, they also become more vertical. They are expanding underground through rail corridors and above ground into the tall buildings that shape city skylines. Cities are deep as well as wide.

The urban geographer Stephen Graham describes cities as both “vertically stacked” and “vertically sprawled”, laced together by vertical and horizontal transport systems.

People flow in large cities is not only about how people move horizontally on rail and road networks into and out of city centres. It also includes vertical transport systems. These are the elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks that commuters use every day to get from the underground to the surface street level.

Major transport hubs are where many vertical and horizontal transport systems converge. It’s here that people flows are most dense.

But many large cities face the twin challenges of ageing infrastructure and increased volumes of people flowing through transport hubs. Problems of congestion, overcrowding, delays and even lockouts are becoming more common.

Governments are increasingly looking for ways to squeeze more capacity out of existing infrastructure networks.

Can we increase capacity by changing behaviour?

For the last three years, Transport for London (TfL) has been running standing-only escalator trials. The aim is to see if changing commuter behaviour might increase “throughput” of people and reduce delays.

London has some of the deepest underground stations in the world. This means the Tube system is heavily reliant on vertical transport such as escalators. But a long-standing convention means people only stand on the right side and allow others to walk up on the left.

In a trial at Holborn Station, one of London’s deepest at 23 metres, commuters were asked to stand on both sides during morning rush hour.

The results of the trials showed that changing commuter behaviour could improve throughput by increasing capacity by as much as 30% at peak times. But this works only in Tube stations with very tall escalators. At stations with escalators less than 18 metres high, like Canary Wharf, the trials found the opposite – standing would only increase congestion across the network.

The difference is down to human behaviour. People are simply less willing to walk up very tall escalators. This means a standing-only policy across the network won’t improve people flow uniformly and could even make congestion worse.

Is people movement data a solution?

With the introduction of ticketless transport cards it’s now possible to gather more data about people flow through busy transport hubs as we tap on and off.

Tracking commuters’ in-station journeys through their Wi-Fi enabled devices, such as smart phones, can also offer a detailed picture of movement between platforms, congestion and delays.

Transport for London has already conducted its first Wi-Fi tracking trial in the London Underground.

Issues of privacy loom large in harvesting mobile data from individual devices. Still, there’s enormous potential to use this data to resolve issues of overcrowding and inform commuters about delays and congestion en route.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

Present at the 11th International Urban Design Conference

The 2018 International Urban Design Conference will be held at the SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney, NSW over 12 – 13 November.

The conference will showcase innovations in projects and research embracing and creating transformational change in urban environments.

Topics will include exploring the potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts, urban design best practice, designing safety into a city, future proofing, connectivity and design quality outcomes.

The conference will also explore the links which create the concrete physicality of the built environment, the complex social, economic, political and cultural processes through which the physical urban form is produced and consumed.

Applications to Present and Registration are NOW OPEN!

Conference Topics Include:

  • Potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts
  • Regulating urban design
  • Safe city design
  • Transport
  • Design quality
  • Digital

Individuals and organisations are invited to submit an abstract (summary of your presentation) to deliver an oral presentation or poster presentation which addresses one or more of the conference topics. The abstract should be no more than 300 words and outline the aims, contents and conclusions of the presentation. Abstracts should not include tables, figures or references. Please also submit 3 key learnings of your presentation, as well as a 100 word biography of each presenting author.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Program Committee. Presentations will be selected to provide a Program that offers a comprehensive and diverse treatment of issues related to the Conference topics.

For more information on the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, topics, to submit your application to present, registration and more please visit the conference website at urbandesignaustralia.com.au

Materials that make heat worse for our kids demand a rethink by designers

It is with some relief that Australians are leaving behind the excruciatingly hot days of summer. But did you ever stop to think about the role of design in making matters better – or worse? Spending all day in air-conditioned rooms before walking out to a car that has baked in the sun all day is an exercise in extremes that many of us have faced. It’s easy to forget these conditions are shaped and mediated by design.

Campaigns warn us about the dangers of leaving children in hot parked cars. However, there are many more designed microclimates in the city where “real feel” temperatures far exceed reported air temperatures. One example, where children spend many hours of the day, is the childcare centre, where we found some artificial surfaces can become dangerously hot.

Our preliminary study over the record-breaking summer of 2017-8 assessed the thermal characteristics of outdoor play spaces in three childcare centres in Western Sydney. We discovered that summer temperatures can vary dramatically, depending on the materials and environments being measured.

We measured air and surface temperatures to generate detailed information about the effects of heat on shaded and non-shaded surfaces at each facility. These included artificial materials such as “soft fall” surfaces and Astroturf, “semi-natural” materials such as bricks and woodchips, and natural materials, including sand and grass.

In full sun, the artificial surface materials became dangerously hot. Soft fall surface temperatures reached 71-84°C on days when air temperatures were in the low 30s. Astroturf heated up to nearly 100°C. Plastic toys in direct sun reached temperatures up to 73.7°C – that is one hot rubber duck!

You can see the effect of different surfaces in the thermographic image below. It shows tens of degrees of difference between soft fall and thick grass in full sun.

Hot materials undermine safety benefits

Soft fall, as the name suggests, is widely used to create “safer” environments for children should they fall. Rising heat undermines this safety benefit. Because it transforms the material into a source of potentially significant harm it also reduces the time that can be spent playing outdoors.

Contrary to their current widespread use, this study found that artificial materials like soft fall and Astroturf should be used sparingly and only in shaded settings. Shade does make a significant difference to the temperatures recorded, but shaded soft fall and Astroturf were still hotter than shaded natural surfaces. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a centre with an old camphor laurel tree supplying ample shade in the play space recorded the lowest daytime air temperatures.

A thermally healthy outdoor play space is crucial for supporting children’s social, physical and cognitive development. However, the extreme temperatures recorded in this study turn such spaces into hostile environments that leave little option but to move indoors to cope.

Indoor activities tend to be more sedentary, which is linked to reduced physical fitness and rising obesity. We already spend around 90% of our time indoors in environments (including cars) that depend on air conditioning for habitability.

Of course, you can only air-condition a space effectively if it is enclosed. The rise of the “indoor biome” has been associated with poor air quality and a raft of other complex hazards.

Yet childcare centres with cool, comfortable outdoor play spaces, designed to enable both mobility and a connection with nature, are far from the norm in our rapidly densifying cities. The newest centre in our study, for example, had the smallest outdoor activity space, with the least shade, very limited natural ground cover and the greatest proportion of soft fall. This raises questions about the impact of design trends on the quality of outdoor activity spaces.

It is worth noting too that, given the level of demand, there is often little choice about where a child might be offered a place.

Climate change makes design even more important

How accountable should designers be for the everyday living environments that they create? For example, could the designers of the past have known about the environmental, social and cultural impacts of one of the most transformative designs of the 20th century, the car?

Perhaps not, but things have changed. The need to adapt to a changing climate makes good design important for our survival. And that, in turn, demands designers take greater responsibility for the harms arising from their work.

Originally published by The Conversation, continue reading here.